Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

August 22nd, 2005

Civic Duty

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
I've written about these two before, and I now have taken on the civic duty of saving them from themselves. By the way, this story is not meant to purposely tick any particular person(s) or group(s) of y'all off, and I promise to stay as diversely correct (yeah, right) as I possibly can, even thought it tugs at my southern roots to the point of dislodge.

The two I make mention of are the two gals down the road a couple of houses, Nancy and Tina. I won't mention last names, because I fear certain lawsuits may come about in the very near future from these two after this article is published.

These two are recent transplants from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "Philly" as they call it. "Yankees," as we call 'em down here. Now don't get me wrong. Nancy and Tina are fine folks; they just talk a little funny. But, be that it may, they are still slickers, and make no bones about it. They seem quite proud of the fact, actually.

Down here, Yankees are a very important part of our daily entertainment; we give up a lot of our valuable time to observe them in our native habitat. We find they are quite amusing, and it doesn't cost anything, and we try to observe them from afar; undisturbed. But these two are only two houses down, and better observed up we can see and hear 'em.

Take for instance not too terribly long ago...

If I recollect correctly it was on a Memorial Day weekend. The kids and grandkids were coming over for a joint barbeque with one of our other neighbors (I hadn't officially met the two gals yet). The ladies in question have a chocolate Lab; a "duck" dog. Yep, the Lab is a Yankee, too. This pup was raised on concrete, no ducks to be found. But yet, there's a little instinctual switch buried deep within the brain of these critters that turns on when said critter sees the target. Well, we all live on a lake, the lake has ducks, the ducks hang out on everybody's docks, and the Lab sees the "target," i. e. duck. "Roxie" the Lab spots the duck just as one of the gals opens the back porch door; the duck spots large, chocolate-colored missile, "Roxie," in full retrieve mode; duck hauls it into the lake. Roxie does a most spectacular launch from the dock into the lake and begins swimming madly after the now flapping and swimming Muscovey duck. But that isn't what drew our attention away from the smoldering slabs of ribs. It was the frantic screaming of, yep, Nancy and Tina. Come to think of it, the first and only time I've actually seen Nancy in the lake. Roxie is now looking back at "Mom" like she's nuts.

"Why the heck is Mom yelling at me?"

"Roxie! Somebody get a boat!" This outburst is loud enough that people from across the lake have come outside to see what the ruckus is all about.

"A boat? Why does Mom need a boat, I'm doing just fine! Look Mom! I really can swim, and hey, my first duck! How ya like me now?"

"Roxie, get your &%$ back here! There're gators out there that are going to eat you!"

Well, the duck out-swims Roxie. Roxie gives up just as two of the other neighbors (other Yankees) slide their canoe into the lake, and Roxie, looking somewhat puzzled with all the commotion going on, swims back to the shore giving the two in the canoe the evil eye.

What'd I tell you? Yep, cheap entertainment at its finest.

Ah, but one has only to look at the other underlying facet in this particular scenario. There is a sentence written above that should draw the attention of a southern boy, such as myself. Did you other southern folks catch it? Yep, thought so. Good!

"There're gators out there that are going to eat you!"

Now according to all Yankees, there is a gator in every body of water in the state of Florida. Just like the entire freakin' state is covered in palm trees and sandy beaches. Ain't so! However, I would just as soon let 'em believe that little misconception. Less crowding of the lakes, don't ya know?

Now some other misinformed Yankee has led the ladies to believe something is "out there," possibly "The Monster From the Black Lagoon." Now I've been all over the lake, both wading and in a canoe, and have yet to see a gator, or the monster, or anything else that could do one in. I've told them that! Yet they tend to believe another Yankee! I've even tried the common sense approach. Being that if there were alligators in the lake, there wouldn't be tons of turtles and baby ducks all over the place. Gators find these two aforementioned items a delicacy!

Lord knows I've been trying to educate these two. Take for instance the berserk pounding on my front door not too long ago, just seconds after I came home from work.

"There's a huge snake in our back yard! You have to come kill it!"

Yep, Nancy and Tina are pale as ghosts, shaking in their boots as they stand on the front porch.

"What does he look like?" I ask.

"We don't know, but he has diamonds on his back!"

Well, we do have Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes down here, and there is a patch of woods across the street, and they do get huge. Hmmm, could be a rattler. So, as I walked past my pickup truck, I picked up a four-foot long stake out of the back and we walked to their house. The two following close behind like a couple of little ducklings.

"Where'd he go?" I asked as I walked across a manicured lawn.

"He went under the roof-drain-spout-thingie!" as they shouted from thirty feet away, pointing in the direction of the downspout. I flipped the plastic splatter pan away, and this poor, helpless garter snake, coiled in the tree bark, appears more scared than the girls.

"That him?" as I picked him up, and just couldn't help chase the gals with the little feller! Ha! Ain't done that since I was a kid.

Well, the snake lesson 101 went pretty good. I even got Nancy to touch the little guy, but Tina wasn't having any part of the huge, diamond-backed serpent. I turned it loose across the street. Hopefully the little guy will stay there.

So, what does all this have to do with civic duty? Here ya go...

The gals have purchased two, combo spinning rods. Nothing fancy, but workable. I used to pluck some of the most awful rigs from the grass beds in the lake as I waded and fly-fished near the grasses. I finally had the opportunity to educate them somewhat on, "don't use that stuff, use this stuff."

In the months that passes, they have kind of graduated to the right hooks, split-shot and a brightly-colored (sreamin' yellow) bobber and have been doing quite well with the catchin' of bluegill, small bass and an occasional turtle. And the turtle catchin' leads me to another Yankee tale.

There are quite a few soft-shelled turtles in our lake. I actually caught one on an Accardo Spook poppin' bug last year. Never caught a turtle on a fly before. Anyway, the other day I was shootin' the breeze with the gals and they told me they had caught a snapping turtle on a piece of pepperoni. Pepperoni? I thought that to be amusing, since the Alligator Snapping Turtle is one of the most, if not the most, aggressive turtle in the south. These nasty critters, at birth, have the disposition of a mama grizzly bear! They'll rear up on their toes and growl and "snap" and hiss. It's been said that if they bite you, they won't let go 'til it thunders. So, when they told me they had caught one on pepperoni, I began to snicker, imagining this little snapper chasing 'em around on the dock.

"What'd he look like?" I just couldn't resist.

"Well, he had neck that looked like a snake."

That was all I needed.

"It was a soft-shelled turtle. Fine eatin'! Who told you it was a snappin' turtle?"

Yep, you guessed it; another Yankee down the street.

"What!? You eat those things?" Nancy and Tina exclaimed in unison.

Southern folks tend to look past the dangers of the lakes and oceans. We eat anything that doesn't' eat us first. Gators, turtles, frog legs, shark, all of it's good, and no, all of it doesn't taste like chicken. This totally messes up the gals. Kinda messes up Linda, too. But she ain't a Yankee, she's a Kentucky gal, and after ten years with me she just shrugs it off.

Let's see. We were talking about civic duty, weren't we?

I guess by now, the gals are looking at me as sort of a "Crocodile Dundee" type. Or, as Linda said the other day, a "father-figure." I like the "Crocodile Dundee" thing better.

As Linda and I sat outside the other night, Nancy and Tina came down and the conversation turned to fishing the flats. Both women voiced their interest in going over there the next time we went, and began asking what it was like. We explained that we waded, and they would have to get in the water to fish "the right way." We further explained that the water was only a couple of feet deep and was as clear as the swimming pool water, sort of. They thought it was a great idea, and Linda finally convinced them there were no monsters that would crawl out of the salt and eat them. "Course, I couldn't help myself and told them I'd show 'em all the saltwater gators that were out there, but "not to worry."

Last night, Linda and I went down and fished a little with the girls from their dock, and were quite amazed at Linda's ability to cast her spinning rod with fine-tuned accuracy and distance.

Fishing 101 lessons began in their driveway shortly thereafter. Fly-rod? Not yet. But my civic duties to save a couple of Yankees from themselves have begun.

To be continued... ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.

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